Personally, I’ve never been a massive film fan. Despite this, they were a staple of my childhood, as a way of filling the endless, dull gap between waking up and it being a socially acceptable time to leave the house. We had all the classics on VHS – The Little Mermaid and Sleeping Beauty were firm favourites – and later graduated to DVDs of Shrek, Cars and Madagascar. My Dad was an early adopter of LoveFilm, and the thrill of receiving and sending back films in the post whenever we wanted was addictive. We no longer had to wait until we found Freaky Friday in a charity shop, or rely upon Dad’s talent for mysteriously sourcing bumper CDs of Futurama. Whilst these are all fond memories – soundtracked by the boom of “YOU WOULDN’T STEAL A CAR!” – by the age of ten I’d moved away from films. The odd banger still had me hooked – Mum buying Frozen from the supermarket when it first came out, as a treat for finishing Year 6 SATS, was thrilling. But largely, I’d moved on to TV series, many of which I still I watch today as I’m faced with long, cold evenings and limited contact hours.
One of the first TV series I recall choosing myself, after a lengthy, soon-to-become ritualistic dig through BBC iPlayer, was a show called Witless. It stars Kerry Howard, actress and sister of comedian Russell Howard, alongside Zoe Boyle, as flatmates who are moved to Swindon after they witness a murder. Leanne, Howard’s character, adjusts to witness protection spectacularly, becoming ‘Mystique’ and adopting all the personality traits you might associate with that name. I still attribute Leanne’s strong West Country accent to my strange ability to lapse into the dialect when angry, despite being raised in Norwich. The pair are hilarious and, I would argue, Witless is one of BBC Three’s unsung heroes (and I’m not just saying that because of my torrid record with the TV license people).
After I’d dived into the BBC sitcom back catalogue, there was no stopping me from consuming content that was neither age appropriate, nor relevant to my cushty rural village life. Putting aside the ‘Stacey Dooley investigates Russian escorts’-type documentaries, comedy was my drug of choice and boy was I hooked. Josh – comedian Josh Widdicombe’s three-series sitcom – had cameos from the likes of Jack Dee, Elis James, and Jennifer Saunders. It traces the lives of three very different flatmates and uni pals who live together in London. Looking back, there’s nothing terrifically funny or clever about it, but it certainly feels safe, comfy, and extremely British. Josh made me feel excited for a young adulthood filled with frequent dates, funny friends, and an inevitable move into the performing arts. So far, I’ve only achieved one of those three (thanks guys).
On the topic of university relationships, nothing can beat Fresh Meat. Created by the faces behind Peep Show, Fresh Meat was the all-boozing, all-sex, high drama version of life at a fictional Mancunian university, thrusting Jack Whitehall, Charlotte Ritchie, and Zawe Ashton onto our screens in the pre-Netflix/Ghosts/Tom Hiddleston days. It would do a lot of good for Oxford students to watch Whitehall’s portrayal of JP: the upper-class, work-shy, emotionally needy “baron of banter”. JP often makes me physically wince, and do that thing where you try to shrink your neck because the cringe is too much to handle. Put it on your list if anyone’s ever asked you what school you go to. There are several series to sink your teeth into, and they’re a great comfort if you ever feel guilty about your work-life balance.
Whitehall later featured in and wrote Bad Education, another show that comes under the banner of ‘you couldn’t make that now’, but which is definitely nostalgic. Whitehall’s Alfie Wickers is simultaneously the teacher you wish you had and the one you hoped you never would have, and Mathew Horne embodies the cringey-but-trying-to-be-cool headteacher. Personally, my favourite was Nikki Runeckles’ Chantelle, Class K’s most flirtatious, glamourous and outrageous member – undoubtedly an odd choice for a Christian child from Norfolk.
It was perhaps even stranger that I would be drawn to Jake, Karen, and Ben and their chaotic lives in Chiswick. But the Outnumbered children said things that I always wished I could say, whilst Pete and Sue – the show’s parents, who have been together in real life since 2017 – were the sweary antithesis to my own parents. Most hilarious though were Karen’s scenes, especially when she held a funeral for a dead mouse:
“Brethrens, we are gathered here in the bosom of Jesus to say goodbye to this mouse, killed before its time. We have given it cheese and bread for its journey to heaven, or at least if it goes to hell, it’ll have cheese on toast. Next up is the Pope – dust to dust, for richer or for poorer, in sickness or in health, may the force be with you, because you’re worth it, amen and out”.
Another show known for its animal stars – namely the miniature horse Li’l Sebastian – is Parks and Recreation, which I discovered in Year 10 when it was added to Amazon Prime. If you haven’t seen it then I advise watching from the beginning – although season one is slow, by the time Ben and Leslie get married you’ll genuinely be rooting for them more than your family. Every single character is interesting and odd in their own way. And it birthed the greatest day of the year – ‘treat yo’ self’.
More recent candidates for a rewatch binge include Kiwi comic Rose Matafeo’s Starstruck. Despite most of us having never slept with a movie star (apart from you, Zawe), Matafeo’s twenty-something Jessie is incredibly relatable. Her disdain for a murder mystery party, her increasingly engaged/married/pregnant mates and their well-meaning but nosey comments. If you feel left behind, or not sure what you really want to do with your life, this will soothe you.
I’m keenly aware that I’ve left out Gavin and Stacey here, despite it being one of the British public’s all-time favourites, and I enjoy the odd episode of Brooklyn Nine-Nine too. Modern Family has remained a stalwart of our household, as one of the few shows everyone can enjoy, since lockdown. So, if you too enjoy watching shows about lives that are so different to your own – but just as mundane and complicated – then find the telly remote and dive in. After you’ve paid for the relevant subscriptions, of course.